More Writing Advice I Don’t (entirely) Agree With

am writing

Tis the season where writers crack open their notepads and crank out words on their keyboards- because Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) is upon us! Well, not for me in any capacity this year, but that’s a story for another time… Either way, in solidarity, I’ve been doing some thinking about writing that I thought I’d share. There’s a helluva lot of writing advice out there- much of which I agree with- and some which I’ve vocally disagreed with in the past (see Exhibit A and Exhibit B). Today, I’m not just going for the advice that I vehemently oppose (like the time when I responded to the *shudder-inducing* advice that “there are writers and then there are readers”). Still, I do think there’s some advice which could be a bit more nuanced. Without further ado, here’s the writing advice I don’t entirely agree with and why:

moneyBooks are not art- they’re purely commercial. This is the piece of advice I’ve seen more of lately and it cuts right through my soul. Don’t get me wrong, there is a commercial aspect to every art form. And my saying books are art doesn’t mean writing can’t be improved or criticised or anything like that. But wow. I dare say if you actually believe this, you’re in the writing game for the wrong reasons. Feel free to spare the world whatever cash grab fic you’ve been writing on your phone and are hoping to foist on us unsuspecting readers- PLEASE! On that topic…

money2If you want to be a writer, write erotica because it sells– this is the only piece of advice on this list I’ve ever personally received (more than once!) and I had to include it because it’s the worst advice in the world. And also, it’s hilarious. No shade at erotica writers, you do you, but do it cos you actually want to, not cos you think you’re gonna make bank.

thinking monkeyWrite what you know– which, hello, fantasy writers can’t exactly do- unless you happen to know a dragon personally, in which case I’m very jealous, can you introduce me? 😉 The other problem is that stories shouldn’t just be purely autobiographical, as I mentioned the other day. And, as Rebecca Alasdair mentioned in her amazing post on writing advice she doesn’t follow, it really limits creativity. We can’t just be stuck in our own heads when writing, we have to explore the world a little. Sometimes that means going places in your imagination that you’ve never been before. And yes, that can mean writing things you’ve never experienced. Personally, I’ve found more sensitive writers are totally capable of doing this! (for instance, Terry Pratchett did an amazing job of getting in the head of a great ape 😉 ) All of which leads me onto…

popeyeYou need to toughen up to be a writer– generally speaking, I think it’s a good idea to toughen up and grow a spine. But… the problem I have with this advice is that you kinda need to be sensitive to be an artist. So, my version of this tough love advice would be to say: don’t be so tough that you can’t write something emotionally compelling. Similarly, I disagree with…

bad writing gigIf you’re insecure, this is not the field for you. Writers and artists are insecure (there’s that sensitivity issue again 😉). Personally, I think this makes writers more open to criticism, because if you think too highly of yourself, you won’t want to improve. More importantly, *everyone* has insecurities and I hate to think of brilliant people never sharing their work just out of fear. That’s a really sad thought, cos we’re all missing out. Bringing me onto…

shoot for the moonIt’s not possible to be the next *insert genius writer here* and no one can write like *insert famous writer here*. Okay, I agree in the sense that you should never be so derivative that you sound like another writer. HOWEVER, you never know who could be the next famous/genius writer in their own right. I mean, genius writers are evidence of this 😉 I’ve said this before, but I truly believe there’s real talent out there, striving for greatness. The implication here is you shouldn’t even bother to try. My thought is that it’s awful to put people like that off (even if we do have to deal with a bunch of pretentious wannabes searching for them 😉)

peter pan robin williams flyingWriting is hard– well I’m actually being cheeky with this one because I actually agree in the sense that it is definitely work. BUT every time I hear it I half-nod, half-shake my head, cos I feel like this one should come with a disclaimer (hey, I did say this list would be more nitpicky!). Truth is, there are days when it feels like all the gears are grinding and still nothing’s moving forward, yet there are other days when the words are gliding and new worlds are spinning on the page and I swear there’s no closer feeling to flying. Nothing compares to being in that zone. Granted it’s the soaring joy of Icarus- but I’ll take it, if only for a moment. So yeah, I would just rephrase this to writing is work, yet it’s the best kind of work, because no other work can give you superpowers! 😉

winners podiumWriting is competitive– now, this is something that could be more of a personality thing, so no judgement if you’re motivated by competition. That said, logically speaking, it’s hard to make this into a competitive sport. As much as traditionally published authors are subject to the whims of the market, for example, the fact is there’s always room for good writing and good ideas. Someone else getting published doesn’t mean you won’t be. Each writer is running to their own finish line- independent of everyone else. And I know some people will point out that you can be beaten to an idea, but *whispers* all ideas have been done before anyway, so that race is kinda run. The uniqueness you bring is usually in the telling.

writingWrite every day– well for one thing, I have a day job (and this blog), so that just isn’t possible. I do completely understand and think this is a great practice… it’s just completely impractical for most of us. I think scheduling it into your week is so important, but for some writers, who write in intense bursts, this won’t work. Plus, if you’re anything like me, you’ll get burn out (which is a bummer, but it happens). Sometimes, it’s okay to take breaks.

chill slothWrite in order that one day you won’t have to write so much– kinda coming full circle, but this attitude seems to come back to the people who are in it for the BIG PAYOUT (I feel like there are better fields than this for that, but whatever, some people really believe publishing is a giant money tree). I’m gonna be real, I don’t write to relax. That’s never been the point of it for me. And I feel like even if your ambition is to be a full-time writer, the whole point of that isn’t so that you get time off… it’s actually about aspiring to write MORE. So, yeah, if you have visions of chilling out by the pool with famous authors (as Matthew Wright wrote in a hilarious piece on this recently), maybe this isn’t the write field for you…

Oof- that was a little harsh there at times- but we got through it. What writing advice do you disagree with? Or maybe just aren’t entirely on board with? Let me know in the comments!

The Obsession with Making Writing Real

thoughts orangutan

One thing I have to make clear before I get started is that I’m not saying “realism sucks”. Every genre or style has its time and place. As much as I love fantasy, I’m open to all forms of the genre and I also adore classics/literary/contemporary fiction etc (not to mention the fact I like my historical fiction as realistic as possible). So, let’s just begin by saying yes, realism rocks just as hard as fantasy. Glad we could get that out of the way 😉

What I do mean, however, is that sometimes striving for realism takes over. While glaring errors can take you out of a story, sometimes criticism of contemporaries can get a little nitpicky (like, whether or not a particular school has a netball team or whatever). And I’ve written at length about why I’m happy to suspend my disbelief for fantasy. More recently, there’s even been a particular obsession with real experience. Which, you know, can be a problem since not every book is (or should be) an autobiography.

atticus finch quoteFor starters, writing is often about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. That’s kind of impossible if you’re never allowed to think outside your own bubble. And while I’m not saying poach anything you like, or that everyone is capable of doing this, some people really are amazing at putting themselves in the mind’s eye of someone totally unlike them (one of the best examples being Rowling’s depiction of abuse, when, as far as I know, she hasn’t experienced this herself).

The other huge problem is how subjective this can be. While one reader might give you the go ahead, another might say you got it totally wrong. This can be even more troubling when you consider the fact that even if you have the same experience, it doesn’t mean you relate to it the same way. It’s frankly horrifying to see authors attacked for writing about their own experiences- which happened to Leigh Bardugo recently over Ninth House. I’m gonna be real: I lean heavily on my own experience in my writing, so it strikes a nerve to see people lashing out at writers over this.frieda-norris-quote-sisterhood I shouldn’t have to point this out, because it is fairly obvious, but here we go: you can’t make claims about someone’s experience without knowing the individual intimately (and even then, it’s pretty rude).  In fact, I’ve had people do the “ugh you don’t know about this, so shut up!” routine to me over things I *definitely* do know about (though, of course, they don’t know that). I’d say it’s safer not to assume you know a stranger’s life story, but that’s just me 😉

What’s more, even if I’ve been critical of a book for being unrelatable, I find it really helpful to hear why other people got something out of it. Not everything can be relatable for everybody– so it’s cool if you disagree with me on something. It gives me a chance to hear another perspective.

Plus, a huge amount of this simply comes down to personal taste. That’s what I tried to get across when I wrote the post “Don’t Write X”- it’s just not possible to appeal to everyone- and that’s okay! I can accept, for instance, that some readers are into fantasy for the world building and complex systems- ergo hyper-realism is important to them. Just because it isn’t the case for me, doesn’t mean I get to rain on their parade and decide all books should be super fantastical. There’s room for both hard and soft magic systems! Similarly, I’ve heard one writer say they find it pulls them out of a contemporary if the names don’t match up to modern trends… whereas I’m all for the quirky names! Barring huge illogical inconsistencies and glaring errors, these things will always be hit or miss. It’s about finding the right readers for a particular book.

For me, books aren’t all about how precise they are; they’re about the endless possibilities they contain. And so I’m not going to obsess over the realism (especially cos even complex magic systems basically come down to *because magic* anyway 😉).

because magic.gif

So, what do you think? Is realism the be-all and end-all for you? If not, where do you draw the line? Let me know in the comments!

All the *WARNINGS*!!!

thoughts orangutan

Once upon a time, back in my more edgy days, I drafted a post called “triggered by trigger warnings”. The reason I never posted that BEAST-OF-A-POST was because it ended up being 15,000 words of research and incoherent ramblings… so it’s probably for the best that I lost that post when my old laptop, the Mad Hatter, passed away in February (#RIP). Besides, since I worked on that post there’s been even more discussion in the scientific community on the topic- making this more fortuitous timing to have a chat about it. Don’t worry though, this post won’t be 15,000 words 😉

cracks knuckles batmanOkay *cracks knuckles* before we get started, I know this is going to be a sensitive topic for some people, so I may as well begin with a little self-defence and state for the record: I’m not going to get personal. I’m certainly not writing this post for any nefarious purposes. And I would ask those who disagree with what I have to say not to assume/attack/jump to conclusions about me ta-very-much… except that’d likely be a pointless request, since most people don’t need to be told not to be dicks and the people that do need it will likely ignore the request anyway 😉

So, we’re already at an impasse, where all I can say is that I understand the perspective of those who use trigger warnings and can sympathise with their intentions. Arguments range from protecting children from inappropriate books to helping those with PTSD/mental health issues avoid topics they don’t want to read. Personally, I believe that all readers should be able to self-censor, or to use a more common term CHOOSE, what they read. That’s a huge part of why we review books in the first place. you chooseAnd I will say, so we’re clear, if you want to put trigger warnings in your reviews, that’s entirely your decision. Reviewers should feel free to review in whichever way they see fit. But I do think there should be more discussion around this, since there are reasons bloggers like me do not use them. And, spoiler alert, it’s not cos we’re evil 😉

The main issue that I’ve always had with the use of trigger warnings is the consensus from a large swathe of the scientific community that trigger warnings are not only ineffective, they’re also counterproductive. Most recently, a study by Harvard PHD student Payton Jones, linked below, discovered that trigger warnings increased anxiety for those with severe PTSD. His findings were that trigger warnings “countertherapeutically reinforce survivors’ view of their trauma as central to their identity.” Other trauma psychologists, such as Metin Basoglu, previously stated “Most trauma survivors avoid situations that remind them of the experience. Avoidance means helplessness and helplessness means depression. That’s not good. Exposure to trauma reminders provides an opportunity to gain control over them.” Regardless of whether an individual can seek help or not, I would question whether it is wise to adopt a practice which can worsen an individual’s symptoms. This is not as cut and dry an issue as many are led to believe.

Sticking to the topic of mental health, I believe there is an alternative way to approach the issue. Logically speaking, it’s no wonder that trigger warnings can be counterproductive. They prime the reader for an adverse reaction. Starkly putting the words “trigger warning: rape” is far more shocking than explaining gently in the review that “there are sensitive topics in the book, such as sexual assault, so readers who don’t want to read this content may want to bear that in mind”. This is aside from the fact choosing the correct warnings in the first place is tricky if not nigh on impossible (I am not joking when I say that I’ve met a person with an intense fear of buttons for instance). Rather than picking out from a carefully cultivated list, readers are usually better at determining for themselves where the line might be. A good review will always facilitate that, letting you know important aspects of the content.

Here’s where the other issues come in. Chiefly, the spoiler issue… and yes this is an issue for a lot of readers. Not everyone, obviously- many people don’t care about spoilers and some even (*shock horror*) flip to the end of a book before they start to find out how it turns out! Yet, even for those who want to avoid certain topics in books, reading trigger warnings is a no-go because they are laden with spoilers. Given that people put in *every* detail into the warning section, from plot twists to endings, it is unsurprising not everyone wants to know the entire journey in advance. Thus, some reviewers prefer to explain any content issues in the body of the review- which most reviewers endeavour to do tactfully and in depth. This is the *purpose* of a review after all. I understand the desire to give people the information quickly- which is why trigger warnings are so popular in the age of immediacy- yet the words without context aren’t just spoilery. They can actually have other consequences for a book.

Think for a moment what the label “racism” does to your preconceptions of a book. Now if I tell you that trigger warning can be applied from To Kill a Mockingbird to The Invisible Man to Gone with the Wind to Huckleberry Finn, it should raise alarm bells- because these are v-e-r-y different books. Out of context, the word “racist” is off-putting- which is why a full review, with examples, explanations and in-depth explorations, is so important. Just sticking a label on a book is unhelpful if we actually want to examine the issues it contains- especially if its critiquing said issues. I’d argue it’s potentially censorious, except that labels like these have already been used to slam cancelled books. In fact, people often aren’t even allowed to have this conversation without getting cancelled (anecdotally, I saw Erika Sanchez getting serious blowback on twitter for daring to have an opinion on this). And it’s no secret that “triggering books” have been used widely to self-censor at universities (which, given the role of academic institutions, is rather different to self-censoring when reading for pleasure).

All of this- combined with the fiery-career-ending conversations around this topic- gets in the way of free and open debate. And that is what I am most concerned about. We need to have real conversations, not resort to “here’s what this book is about in 140 characters or less!” Maybe I’m wrong, maybe the quickfire culture is right- but personally I’d rather take my time figuring things out.

That’s all I’ve got for now. Before I go, I’d like to share a couple of fantastic posts from other bloggers having this conversation and presenting their own views:

Drew @The Tattooed Book Geek https://thetattooedbookgeek.wordpress.com/2019/02/08/lets-talk-trigger-warnings-bookblogger-bookbloggers-blogger-bloggers-blogpost

Confessions of a YA Reader https://confessionsofayareader.wordpress.com/2019/07/14/are-we-policing-books-too-hard-or-not-enough-are-we-helping-books-get-banned-controversial-book-discussion-post-massive-warning-for-triggers-and-hot-topics-throughout-the-whole-blog-post-do/

And more recent research that I’ve done:

https://osf.io/axn6z/

https://www.radiotimes.com/news/tv/2018-03-15/do-trigger-warnings-on-tv-do-more-harm-than-good/

https://www.campusreform.org/?ID=13462

https://slate.com/technology/2019/07/trigger-warnings-research-shows-they-dont-work-might-hurt.html

https://slate.com/human-interest/2013/12/trigger-warnings-from-the-feminist-blogosphere-to-shonda-rhimes-in-2013.html

https://www.nationalreview.com/2019/03/study-trigger-warnings-are-basically-useless-even-if-youve-been-through-trauma/

https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2019/03/do-trigger-warnings-work/585871/

https://themedium.ca/features/going-too-far-with-trigger-warnings/

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/11106670/Trigger-warnings-more-harm-than-good.html

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/may/20/trigger-warnings-college-campus-books

Sooo time to turn it over to you- am I going to hell in a handbasket for my opinions here? Do you agree or disagree with my stance on this? Let me know in the comments!

Calling Out Call Out Culture

thoughts orangutan

What with freedom of speech week coming up, I thought now would be a good time to start pissing people off *ahem* saying all the *controversial things* I’ve ever wanted to say. Starting with the fact that I HATE cancel culture… which I guess means I’m going to cancel myself with this post 😉

Just kidding- I know that the blogosphere is basically the sanest place on the internet and I’m probably just talking to an echo chamber of people who agree with me 😉 But you all know what I mean by cancel culture: those dumpster fires that rage online daily and seem intent on destroying everything in their path.

two minutes of hate
And people call 1984 too far-fetched 😉

I’m referring to the fact that many ordinary people are walking on eggshells for fear they’re about to receive their FIFTEEN MINUTES OF SHAME! I’m talking about the way people try to cancel YA for being too dark or daring to cover a controversial topic or the author saying something that strays from a rather niche-and-ever-evolving hymn sheet. Many of the articles I’ve included in my sources will give you examples, yet the one of the most striking is the curious case of Blood Heir, where critical advanced reviews promoted the incorrect idea that the reference to slavery in the book must inherently refer to the Slave Trade and therefore this was cultural appropriation (gosh, so many things wrong with that view, not least that slavery is endemic across history and an ongoing global issue). There was good news on that front recently, with the book now being scheduled for release in November (after people came to their senses and realised Zhao did *nothing wrong*), but not everyone that comes under fire lives to tell the tale.

Most authors can easily have their career ruined by these actions. No one is immune- I’ve seen the most famous authors and virtual unknowns attacked. And I’m often ASTOUNDED by how blasé so many creative people are about it (sometimes even being ringleaders in this regard). Too many seem to be kidding themselves that “oh well I believe all the ‘right’ things so they couldn’t possibly come for me”- when in reality I’ve seen the goal posts change a million times in the last few years. I’ve seen some books praised for covering difficult topics… and the next one condemned. The perceived *target* seems to be as guilty as the next person. All at the whim of select reviewers, social media activists or journos.

Now, far be it for me to criticise negative reviews! You all know I’ve defended them at length. No, I’m talking about targeted campaigns to get a book cancelled because of something (usually) one individual disliked about it. Which to me is a bizarre attitude- as Angela Carter said “Reading a book is like re-writing it for yourself. You bring to a novel, anything you read, all your experience of the world. You bring your history and you read it in your own terms”– no two people will read a book the same way (I know, very death of the author 😉). And I think we all experience this with reviews. I know I can’t be the piles of booksonly contrarian that’s read a negative review and thought “huh but that thing they’re complaining about really appeals to me- ADDING IT TO MY ALREADY INSANELY LONG TBR!” (#bookwormlogic) That might even be why some authors seem to thrive off a little healthy debate.

let it goOf course if you had a problem with a book *wrestle with it, examine it, dissect it to your heart’s content*, but also LET IT GO! Because, not only are we all individuals who experience books differently, but it isn’t a healthy attitude to have such a visceral reaction. You know why I write negative (and to some extent positive) reviews? To get it out of my system. I think the thing, say the thing, move on from the thing- never have I thought “I’M GONNA GO ON A CRUSADE AND RUIN THIS AUTHOR’S LIFE!”

Shockingly, there are people who do think like that. Annnd this is the part of the post where I’m going to throw some real shade. Cos the agitators behind this know *exactly* what they’re up to. They think they’re getting good publicity and that no one could possibly think they’re the jerk. They think that the cover of social media grants them anonymity- and yet I’ve spotted a pattern with repeat offenders. While they may be happy to destroy careers on a whim, they like equally problematic things in other books (cos it’s pretty easy to have a little looksie at their goodreads 😉). Hypocrisy aside, there’s nothing wrong with them liking some books over others- the problem arises from them trying to act as the moral arbiters here. Because who the hell crowned them the king or queen of taste?! Most people rightly realise opinions are *SUBJECTIVE*.

Being the worrier that I am, I fear I’ll get a chorus of “name names” and “tell us who’s doing this”- but that is the antithesis of why I’m doing this post in the first place. I don’t see how turning the mob on these individuals will help calm things down. Besides, too often we’re so fixated on the named “criminal” we forget what we’re even talking about. Recently, I’ve written articles in response to some statements by famous authors and, rightly or wrongly, I chose not to include names. While I don’t want to rely on hearsay, I personally think it’s usually better to focus on their ideas and avoid the possible (totally unnecessary) author-bashing. Especially since the one time that I did name an individual for off the cuff comments, it ended up being a distraction to the point at hand. Naturally, this isn’t to say every journalist or commentator is wrong to do so, I just think sometimes it is possible to argue your point without making it personal.

As much as I hate call out culture, I know not everyone who gets caught up in it is an awful person. We’re all human (or in some cases monkeys) and we all make mistakes. But maybe, just maybe, it’s time to stop liking those tweets from people saying “let’s end so-and-so’s career”. Maybe we can stop posting and reposting the angry diatribes directed at individuals. It might just be a little too late in some other areas of life, but we can do better in the bookish community at least. Or else, all art will be dictated by the mob and books can be nothing more than drab, colourless, lifeless autobiographies. Sounds fun, doesn’t it? 😉

Other blog posts on the topic…

Katie @Never Not Reading – Book Twitter is Kind of the Worst

Nicole @Sorry I Am Booked – Bookish Thought Sensitivity: Cancel Culture in Literature

And elsewhere around the internet…

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/jun/15/torn-apart-the-vicious-war-over-young-adult-books

https://www.newyorker.com/books/under-review/in-ya-where-is-the-line-between-criticism-and-cancel-culture

https://slate.com/culture/2019/01/blood-heir-ya-book-twitter-controversy.html

http://www.papermag.com/cancel-culture-doesnt-work-2602364106.html

http://www.womensmediacenter.com/fbomb/the-problem-with-cancel-culture

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/17/opinion/sunday/cancel-culture-call-out.html

https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/2019/04/228847/own-voices-movement-ya-literature-impact

https://www.spectator.co.uk/2019/05/writers-blocked-even-fantasy-fiction-is-now-offensive/

Phew- that was a big topic to get through! And now I’m terrified of what everyone is going to say! Even so, this has always been a platform for free speech and I want to know your thoughts on the issue. So, do you agree with me that cancel culture goes too far? Or should I just head off to the gulag? 😉 Let me know in the comments!

In defence of classics- again!

thoughts orangutan

Prepare yourself, for I am about to say something *ground-breaking*, *momentous*, *lifechanging* even: classics are worthwhile and important. I know, I know, you can stop the applause now 😉 I’m pretty sure I’ve made my defences for classics before and talked about their upsides. Alas- this seems to be the perennial problem of our age that won’t go away. Every week or so, I still see people telling others not to bother reading classics. And I despair whenever I see someone using these horrible, terrible, NOT GOOD arguments. So, it’s about time to put down those swords, grab the much-mightier pen, and let’s break this down, shall we?

“They’re pretentious”- I hear many-a misled individual moan. Here’s the kicker- complex/beautiful/unusual language *is not* automatically pretentious. In fairness, I think there are multiple reasons for this misbelief, starting with the fact that they can be written in archaic language, which is less accessible to the modern reader. Now, where the mistake is being made is that using complex words and a style from 200 years ago DOES NOT mean the author’s intent was to impress upon you its importance in some hoity-toity way. Hard for the modern reader ≠ pretentious. A lot of classics were aimed at the “mass market” (as much as that existed) in the same way a popular paperback might be today. It is a truth universally acknowledged that poor people went to see Shakespeare back in the day 😉 This is not to say that there are no pretentious classics- BUT (and this will come as a shocker) classics are not all the same and come from a range of genres- as was brilliantly pointed out by Pages Unbound.

“There’s no benefit/it’s the same to just watch the movie”- erm no. I mean, I’m not sure I have to explain the difference between reading a book and watching a movie to a bunch of bookworms 😉 Let’s just say, I think we can all agree that there’s endless complexity when it comes to books, it stretches the brain and this is particularly important when it comes to children’s development. Because, yes, classics may provide more of a challenge, but that is really beneficial when it comes to education. You wouldn’t expect an athlete to get better only competing at the lowest level. The language of classics alone often makes a huge difference as well- you can’t just cheat the system by brushing up on sparknotes. There are so many literary devices that you miss if you don’t read it on the page. I’ve heard it said recently the difference is much like looking at a photo versus a painting- the depth is so much greater when you can see the layers for yourself.

“They’re elitist”- seems to be a very pervasive point of view at the moment. Unfortunately, it hurts the very people it pertains to help. Somehow, it’s supposed to help people from lower socio-economic backgrounds to tell them they don’t need to read classics- yet in truth this race to the bottom mentality stands in the way of self-improvement and stops poorer kids from levelling the playing field. Not only will it be impossible to out-compete people who have top-notch educations with this attitude, but it also means our societies will be less educated for it. In the words of headteacher and founder of the Michaela Community School, Katherine Birbalsingh “They are denying a decent education to black kids, because being able to understand Shakespeare is a right that my kids deserve and knowing who Mozart was and hearing his music is a right that they should be able to access.” We should be fighting for underprivileged kids to get good educations, not standing in their way! And on that note…

“They’re all written by old white men”- ahh the criticism that historically speaking Europeans were European. Aside from the what do you actually expect to come out of Europe? counterargument, I do think that there’s other problems with this outlook. One, you may need to re-examine the last few hundred years of the European literary canon; two, I will always advocate expanding your horizons and considering reading *outside* the Western canon. Go on, I dare you 😉 Though there are benefits of reading in the original language, which I’ve mentioned, you can still get access to the ideas and learn something new. But, even if we were to assume all classics were written by “old white men”, it doesn’t actually reduce their merit, make them less valuable or stop them being important for the reasons already stated.

“They put children off reading”- well, I wouldn’t say this is true for a lot of children, as Briana @Pages Unbound wrote about in: “Why I fell in love with reading because of old boring books”. I feel much the same way and many, many literature students will tell you the same thing. Unfortunately, I can’t say that every teacher will be brilliantly inspiring. Plus, there is always the matter of personal taste (although I will urge people put off by a few books not to throw out the baby with the bathwater). Now everything I’ve said so far might indicate that I want children reading classics, whilst playing the violin and sipping tea. Truth is though, I prefer to take the middle ground when it comes to the “what kids should be reading” debate. There should be a balance in children reading for pleasure and for educational purposes. As Krysta @Pages Unbound pointed out in her post “The Unacknowledged Nuances in the Argument for Choice in School Reading“, left to themselves, children will never pick up certain types of books and will nearly always go for the easy option. While it can seem quite prescriptive, the real trick with reading lists is to find a balance- a lot of teachers try to find a mix of well-written/enjoyable/imaginative reads etc. But they’ll also understand that there have to be progressively more challenging books. After all, in the words of George R R Martin:

a mind needs books like a sword needs a whetstone

Classics are the *ultimate* whetstone. And on that weird analogy, I’d like to ask you if you think classics have value? What other defences do you have? Let me know in the comments

In Defence of Girly Girl Genres

thoughts orangutan

A while back I did a discussion on genre snobbery and one of the things that sparked that debate was something I never actually got around to mentioning in the post: the way a lot of women’s fiction and frankly anything aimed at women is treated with derision. I ended up going in a different direction for that piece- though I still had *so much* to say on the topic- which is why we’re finally gonna get into this sugar-and-spice-and-all-things-nice (and totally not controversial) topic 😉 Hold onto your bonnets and try not to get your petticoat in a twist, I’m about to go into the trenches!

keeping fait review
Needless to say, I don’t agree with this review

It’s not uncommon to see denigration of media aimed at females- particularly when it has the audacity to exhibit typically feminine traits 😉 In fact, recently, I was reading a review for the TV show Keeping Faith, when I saw this inane and ridiculous criticism that it had too much “girly music”. To me, a show about a female lawyer, fighting for justice, whilst also being an incredible mum and genuinely caring person is pretty positive piece of media, but what do I know? Apparently, even showing the teensiest bit of femininity must be slated 😉

And I can hardly pretend this is the first time. On a grander scale, Taylor Swift has oft been criticised for being “too girly”. And we can all remember the “AHH TWILIGHT SUCKS!!!” craze- which one could argue ended up being just as hysterical in the end as screaming girls shouting “bite me Edward!” (okay maybe not 😉). Funnily enough, I’m not arguing that Twilight is somehow a fantastic piece of art, but it’s surprising to me that it got so much backlash in mainstream media in a way that other trashy things don’t. For instance, I never see the same level of mockery for James Bond- even though it’s equally as fanciful and has its own issues. This is not an invitation to hate on James Bond- I think everyone is entitled to enjoy whatever they want- yet this chill attitude seems to go out the window when it’s a girly thing that people are enjoying. And, as entertaining as it may be watching everyone from college professors to 50-year-old blokes ripping into something aimed at teenage girls, I do think it would be good if there was *a bit* of perspective here. Not only is this taking said media much too seriously, but I personally believe women and girls should be able to explore their fantasies in a healthy way, free from this ridiculous level of scrutiny and judgement.

BUT I hear many people in the back shouting, why are you complaining, don’t you get a bunch of superhero/action-flick/dramas with female leads nowadays? Well, I’m glad you brought it up, kind heckler, because that’s part of the problem. I’m gonna be brutally honest: these are mostly movies made for men, by men, with a female lead shoehorned in. Don’t get me wrong, I usually enjoy a good action flick, yet I’m not seeing how a woman portraying entirely masculine traits represents most real women. We are constantly bombarded by the idea of what women *should* want to consume and how we *supposedly* behave, all the while any sign of femininity is snuffed out.

Mean-Girls-GIF-Cady-Heron-Lindsay-Lohan-Falls-In-Trash-Can1

In fact, we only have to look at what became of the rom com in Hollywood- cos it’s not like they died a natural death. No, instead, producers told us we didn’t want them anymore and stopped making them. Oh really– we don’t want them, even though most women I meet talk about how much they miss the rom com era of the nineties. Oh sure- we don’t want them- despite the box office success of Crazy Rich Asians, popularity of Netflix rom coms and (remarkably) the surge of affection for the Hallmark channel of all things!

None of this is to stoke revolutionaries to *punch the air* and shout “LET’S TAKE AWAY JAMES BOND FROM MEN THEN!” Unfortunately, I do see this response and I find that attitude counterproductive. As I’ve already mentioned, I actually like plenty of more masculinised media and think that men should have just as much space for their fantasies. HOWEVER, that doesn’t mean I want girly stories pushed aside. I think we can move past the idea that “girly” automatically means “less good”. I want to see women being more fairly represented as we are. And that shouldn’t be a controversial statement.

orangutan in dress

Really good content on this:

The Attack on Femininity in Fiction: Masculine Women and Disempowered Men by the Authentic Observe – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jumw30_j9cs&t=2s

Trope Talk – Strong Female Characters by Jordan Harvey – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ReE5n3jLdzk

Dear Stephanie Meyer by Lindsay Ellis – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8O06tMbIKh0

Let’s Not Judge People on Literary Taste https://franlaniado.wordpress.com/2019/04/17/lets-not-judge-people-based-on-literary-taste/

Chivalry Dying in Books by Kelly @Another Book in the Wall https://anotherbookinthewall.com/2018/03/07/chivalry-dying-in-books-wednesday-rambles/

Also, Strong Female Characters, Mary Sues and Manic Pixie Dream Girls- What the Heck is Up with Female Characters in Books, by me 😉 https://theorangutanlibrarian.wordpress.com/2018/12/09/strong-female-characters-mary-sues-and-manic-pixie-dream-girls-and-what-the-heck-is-up-with-female-characters-in-books/

So do you agree or disagree with my defence of girly genres? Let me know in the comments!

Is all art fanfiction?

thoughts orangutan

Last time, I talked about fanfic, I said I wasn’t going to go down the “all art is fanfic” route. Last time, I said I didn’t have a vested interest. Last time, I broached the topic, I lit powder keg. Well, *a lot* has changed in the two years since last time, so let’s see if we can have a conversation about this without things getting too explosive 😉

Now firmly in the age of reboots, remakes and retellings, I’ve found myself wondering where is the line between fanfic and art? Let’s look at the definition again:

fiction written by a fan of, and featuring characters from, a particular TV series, film, etc.

Disney pillaging its old animations and remaking them shot for shot… seems like fanfic to me. Looting the spoils of Marvel and DC… seems like we could call that fanfic. Buying off creators, like Lucas, and making derivative work… yeah probably fanfic (incidentally, many previous works have been relegated from canon, because of course only massive corporations have permission to make Star Wars stories…). Regardless of whether one likes these franchises or not, one could regard these “new” works as akin to a music cover, because they skirt around legal issues and (mostly) compensate the original creator (again, at the risk of going severely off topic, this does beg the question, why stop there?). Outside of the mainstream, I can see a resurgence of fanfic coming from disgruntled fans and critics, desperate to fix the decimated plotlines and endings for their favourite books/films/shows (*coughs* yes, this is a thinly veiled reference to Game of Thrones… *cough cough*).

game of thrones ending brienne meme

Additionally, art is conversation. I’ve long held the view that originality is overrated, since nothing is technically original to begin with. To return to Disney, I recently watched a few interesting discussions on Youtube about the origins of the Lion King. The gist of the debate is that Osamu Tezuka was inspired by Disney’s Bambi to create Kimba the Lion, which in turn Disney used to launch its own Lion King story (playing up its so-called originality in marketing).

lion king shock

While people have been quick to slam one side or the other, I don’t see this as a black and white issue. If you watch Kimba, you’ll quickly notice the visual and structural differences. Which pulls me away from looking at this as a controversy. Instead, it’s made me think about where we draw the lion (*ahem*) line on what constitutes transformative work. Once you consider whether its satire, if the characters are the same, if the storyline is similar enough, it might be possible to see a huge amount of creativity in fanfic. Not to keep using the same old examples, but there are plenty of success stories for fanfic-turned-mainstream, where all that needed changing before publication were the names.

Okay, so much of what I’ve said is in favour of the view that “all art is fanfic”. And indeed, these days I find myself much more sympathetic to that mindset. But I do still have reservations, because the statement is too much of an oversimplification of art. As much as art can be a response to other art and as much as all art will inevitably draw on its predecessors (as discussed in my piece on “intertextuality vs innovation”), they often diverge so much from the “original” that it can be hard to see the similarity. Take Legend by Marie Lu, inspired by Les Mis. Heck, take Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, which reflects on Paradise Lost. These works are so wholly different that I couldn’t reasonably describe them as fanfic. They have grown lives of their own, had adventures and rode off into the sunset. And, who is to even say where the original began? Or from what pieces the multifaceted novel is derived? To me, it is too complex an issue to be satisfied with the “all art is fanfic” refrain. As I’ve said before, if we water down the term “fanfic” it would cease to have much meaning at all. To me, it’s just art, with an asterisk that all artists are likely big ol’ fanboys and fangirls.

So, what do you think? Do you agree with me that all artists are fans? Or do you think that all art is fanfic? I’d love to hear your take!